Ofcom helps to spread a little Christmas cheer

22 December 2020

At a time when we all need a bit of festive fun, Ofcom has been helping to bring about a new spin on traditional entertainment to keep the country smiling through a Christmas season like no other.

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has seen restrictions put in place on large gatherings. This means people haven’t been able to enjoy the usual types of entertainment that would get them in the festive spirit. Pantomimes and carol services, usually attended by thousands of people at this time of year, have been unable to go ahead in their usual theatre and church venues.

Fortunately, some organisers have been thinking differently about how to bring a bit of cheer to their audiences – and outdoor drive-in events offer an alternative to the usual indoor shows.

Organisers thinking differently about how to bring a bit of cheer to their audiences

However, most drive-in events need a 'restricted service licence'. This is because the events use the radio airwaves to carry what's being played - it's this use of the airwaves that enables audiences to hear the audio through their car radios.

That’s where Ofcom comes in, as we’re the people who issue those licences. We don’t authorise the events themselves – it’s up to the organisers to make sure they’re permissible under coronavirus rules – but our licences help them to go ahead.

We’ve seen a surge in applications for these licences, with organisers using them for a range of drive-in events.

So far we’ve licensed:

  • Christmas movies;
  • church and carol services;
  • light shows;
  • pantomimes; and
  • a Chanukah event.

Drive-in nativity

While ‘carols by headlight’ and a panto on wheels might be a departure from what we’re used to (is it worth shouting ‘he’s behind you!’ when you’ve all got rear-view mirrors?!), these events have brought much-needed cheer to their audiences.

One such event was a drive-in Nativity, organised by Christ Church in Winchester. Holding a drive-in event was the brainchild of vicar Simon Cansdale. He wanted to hold an event that would take the place of a traditional Nativity, which wouldn’t be possible under Covid-19 social distancing rules.

Donkey and Mary on the roof of a car

He says: “Back at the end of the summer I just knew that carol services as we know and love them were not going to be happening this Christmas. So, how could we gather people together to celebrate, tell the story, and sing? Online church is fine but we’re social beings made to be together!”

“So, the drive-in Nativity was born. On the way we discovered that necessity really is the mother of invention, and we found new and engaging ways to tell the story, gather people together, and sing our hearts out that brought the joy of Christmas in the comfort and safety of people’s cars.

“Getting the FM licence was the icing on our Christmas cake - each car listening in on their car stereo and no blasting out our neighbours with massive speaker stacks! It brought an intimacy and sense of occasion to the whole endeavour.”

Christmas stocking on a car